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16
Dec 09
Wed

Splitting the cost of large group meals – a calculator

I have been told that one of the benefits of being allergic to alcohol is that I end up saving a lot of money. This is not always the case. In large group dinners where most people order alcohol, but some don’t, the non-drinkers occasionally end up subsidizing the drinkers. This is because it’s a major pain in the neck when you have to factor in sales tax and tips, and sometimes it’s just easier to split a bill evenly. It also sometimes makes practical sense, if the alcohol spend is relatively low. It’s similar to splitting a bill evenly despite some people’s mains costing slightly more than others. People often remark that working out the bill is the “worst part of the meal”.

However, sometimes it is a little painful when the spend is high. After being shafted – a little rudely, I might add – at a dinner a couple nights ago with about 20 people where around 80% had wine, I thought there must be an easier way. (I realized later that night that having to pay for wine I didn’t drink almost doubled what I should have otherwise paid.)

There are heaps of tipping calculator apps for the iPhone but, surprisingly, I couldn’t find one that solved my particular problem, where you have a subset of people in a group who order something additional (be it an appetizer, or dessert, or alcohol).

So this morning, I hastily cobbled together a javascript app which calculates group tips. It’s terribly ugly and the coding is atrocious, but that doesn’t matter because it’s functional. It works like this:

  1. You set your tax rate (I have presets for LA, NYC, and Santa Clara county, where I am), your tipping rate, and the number of people in your party.
  2. You input the pre-tax subtotal of the bill.
  3. Then, for each course (eg, desserts, drinks, alcohol, etc), you enter the subtotal for that course, and the number of people who had it. The app automatically calculates the subtotal for the “mains” course, which is the course which everyone shares (although you can tweak this and specify that not everyone had a mains).
  4. The app calculates totals for all the combinations of courses, and spits out how much a person should be paying. So for example, if you have a mains and alcohol, then it will tell how much a person should be paying if they had mains only, or if they had mains and alcohol (or even if they had alcohol only). Easy.

Screenshot on iPhone

A useful thing would be to add would be a calculator on screen so you can easily tally up the subtotals for different courses. The calculator also drops trailing zeroes of the currency amounts. Maybe when I have some spare time I’ll tidy it up.

Not sure when I’ll get a chance to test this out in the field next, but if any of you use this, let me know if it works out for you. (You can go to the url on an iPhone, and “Add to Home Screen“)

And if anyone wants to help me convert this into an iPhone app or into a mobile-friendly webpage, let me know. There are a lot more features that could be added (bill emailing, other methods to split bills, etc), and the value proposition is clear: I’d pay a couple bucks for this app if it saved me the time it takes to work out group bills (not to mention the money some people might save from paying their fair share). One day, someone will design an app that will transfer funds between people’s accounts to settle these bills as well.

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